I’ve been a bit slack on keeping the Polyfellers’ blog updated on my winter training, but now that I am between jobs, I have a bit of spare time to catch up.
The Bob Graham Round is a challenge that has been niggling away at the back of my mind for about 10 years. I had moved back to the north of England after several years in Glasgow, and came across Richard Askwith’s book, ‘Feet in the Clouds’. It reminded me of growing up in the Lake District and the trips up the fells every weekend with my family and friends. It reminded me of sitting at Honister Pass with my best mate at junior school, waiting for my dad to give some supplies to his dad, who was running in the Borrowdale fell race. It’s been many years since I read the book, but it did make me think that maybe, at some point, I might be fit enough to give fell running a try.
More years passed, work got busy, children arrived, and my running was very intermittent. Eventually I realised that I enjoyed it too much to let it be intermittent, and I tagged along one night to a North Shields Poly session. Ron, the coach, soon spotted the imposter; told me to give it 4 weeks; and then join if I was still keen. I haven’t looked back. I enjoyed the coaching, and started to improve, really enjoying the cross country. I noticed that some of my friends had done a few fell races – that’s you, Chris Waite and Mark Small – and made a mental note to give it a try at the next opportunity. Not long afterwards, Mark Smith joined the club and his wealth of experience fuelled my interest further. I realised that the club actually had a fell running championship. After that I knew what I’d be spending my weekends doing. I struggled at my first few fell races. I got lost and nearly didn’t get out of Kielder forest at the Falstone Falcon race. My fitness was lacking in the early races of 2016, but gradually it improved, and by the time the Chevy Chase came along I was feeling a little stronger. Nevertheless, it proved harder than the marathons that I had run previously. In the autumn, I told some of the club that if I didn’t get a place in the London marathon, that I would attempt the Bob Graham Round.
Many will be well aware of what this involves, but briefly it is a challenge to visit the summits of 42 Lake District peaks in 24 hours, starting and finishing at Moot Hall in Keswick. As a club, we had attempted it as a 5 stage relay in August 2016. The weather was atrocious, and after slips and lacerations on Halls Fell Ridge, gale-force winds and sheets of rain on the Helvellyn range, we abandoned the attempt. Everyone was disappointed, but the consensus was that we would be back. I let slip that it was something that I had been thinking about and was humbled that so many folk were keen to join me on the legs and to help with the logististics.
After my last road race of 2016 at the Brampton 10 miler, training turned to longer, hillier stuff. Balancing this with the cross-country season was initially quite nice, but as the long runs got longer and steeper, the faster pace at races like the Wollaton Park national cross-country championship was more of a challenge. I was in with a chance of the club cross-country championship, so gave it everything in the last race of the Harrier League, and was pleased with the strength that I had at Alnwick.
I needed to recce the Bob Graham route during the early winter. The weather was not good, and many weekends were spent in waterproofs with poor visibility. I’m not sure if it was Barry Young or Danny Richardson who came up with the theory that I brought bad weather with me whenever I went to the Lake District, but it certainly seemed that way in December, January and February. I am really grateful to Danny, Barry, Chris Rowe, James Hennin, David Johnston and Richard Hanley who have braved the weather with me this winter. In some ways I’m more grateful to their partners (and mine) for letting us get away for hours at a time.
Other Polyfellers have been taking trips to the Lakes for their own recces, and thanks goes to Graham Lewis-Dale, Will Powis, Jenny Simpson, Mark Smith, Chris Waite, Scott Ellis, Lisa Henderson and Katherine Davis. I am really sorry if I’ve missed anyone, but am really grateful. It’s not possible to consider a BG round without support of so many people. Scott Gibson, Phil Green, Dave Sykes, Peter Talor and Scott Watson have also been really kind in offering their support. The chap I remembered racing down through Honister Pass 30 years ago, Dave Waugh, even offered to help rope Broad Stand. Ron Stewart and Iain Twaddle have had some gems of advice to pass on. Ron’s advice about getting bigger shoes has been invaluable! I’ve been getting used to eating whilst running. Previously, I always raced on a couple of slices of toast and trained on an empty stomach. Now I eat all the time when on a long run, and have found a nice mix of mainly savoury treats and cereal bars to keep me going.
As well as recce runs in the Lakes, I planned a few races. The first was the Wadsworth Trog. I’d been under the weather with a cold for the week before but the weather in Yorkshire was kinder than that in the Lakes, and it was a glorious 20 miles over the moors. I had avoided going off too fast at the start and felt good on the final climb back to the finish in 3 hours and 18 minutes.
Photos: Dave Woodhead, WoodenTops
I managed to convince Danny to join me on the 32 mile Haworth Hobble pairs race. It turned out to be the GB trail running trials race and the standard of runner was very high. We made the novice error of standing at the start, as everyone else filed in in-front of us, so that we were pretty near the back as we made our way up the cobbled streets of Howarth and out onto the moors. Again, the Yorkshire weather was pretty good. We made our way up and down the valleys, gradually passing quite a few runners and finished a respectable 5th place in the pair’s race in 5 hours and 22 minutes.
Glen McWilliams has described a fantastic 35 mile route around the Cheviots, linking parts of St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Pennine Way and the Chevy Chase. In March I decided to attempt the McWilliams round. I wanted to keep up the training regime, so incorporated into a weekend after the Thirsk 10 mile road race. I was confident that I could get around in under 7 hours, even if it was on tired legs, but the 40 mph winds and heavy ground took their toll, and I took a slightly extended route in the final stages. Glen was great and met me at the end as light was fading 7 and a half hours later. It is a very picturesque route and I only saw 4 other people during the whole day, though there were herons and red squirrels. On a nice calm and clear day at the end of April Danny and I went round in a respectable time of just under 6 and a half hours.
The Lakes Mountain 42 miler was at the beginning of April. I’d had hamstring issues the week before and was not feeling very confident. I’d been descending a steep fellside in minging rain and had fallen in a bog. Having never been troubled with my hamstrings, I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up, but Sean Maley managed to get them sorted out. After a sleepless night on Askham village hall floor, the race started at 6am. The sunrise over the Pennines was fantastic and the running up High Street was tremendous. We could see Helvellyn and the ridges in the early morning sun. The descent to Glenridding gave me the confidence that my hamstring was going to be ok. By 8am the temperature was already rising, and I stripped to vest and shorts. Credit to the race organisers for having well supplied feed stations and even some sunscreen! I took a high line over Willie Wife Moor to the church at Wythburn. I don’t think that there was much difference in the time compared to the lower option but I did enjoy having the fellside to myself for a while. The climb up Helvellyn was hard going, and I slowed in the final stages, but rallied during the run from the summit to Whiteside and down to Glenridding. Place Fell was tough going as the heat of the day wore on, but the final run into Askham seemed a little cooler and I was pleased to finish 14th in 9 hours and 25 minutes.
Last weekend was the Teenager With Altitude at Stair. It is 15-16 miles with 7000 ft of climbing. I’d been on holiday in Lanzarote with my family for the week before, and tried to keep the training up with some runs up the volcano behind our hotel, but the Teenager was quite a different proposition. I was enjoying the first few climbs too much, and paid for it on the climb up Robinson. I rallied after that and had a good second half of the race in glorious sunshine to scrape into the top half of the field.
Photo: Stephen Wilson, Grand day out photography
So now, it is only 4 weeks before the BG date. Plans are being finalised. Nerves are rising. Most of the training is done. I’ve another few trips to the Lakes including the Fairfield horseshoe, before tapering until 7pm on 26th May…
I’m not sure if I’ll make it, but training with so many great folk over the winter and early spring has been a great pleasure. I’m sure that I won’t be the last of this crop of Polyfellers to take on this great challenge in the next few years.
The BG is very much a personal challenge, but I have seen the Great North Air Ambulance in action at 2 races in the past year, and this may be an opportunity to give them some support. It helps with urgent transfers of injured or ill people, where access is difficult or time is of the essence, and relies on public donations to survive. If you would like to support them please have a look at the JustGiving page.
Photo: Stephen Wilson, Grand day out photography